|ROME: A Catholic priest spoke out on Thursday against human traffickers he said had been holding 500 mainly Eritrean refugees hostage for nearly a year in the Sinai Peninsula, near the Israeli border.|
"Around 500 men and women are being held in basements or tunnels, sometimes in containers, in Rafah as well as south of Sinai. Others live in orchards," Mussie Zerai, head of the Habeshia humanitarian organization, told AFP.
"They are badly treated, tortured. The women have the most terrible fate. They are raped and fall pregnant," the Eritrean priest said.
The refugees are mostly Eritreans who fled persecution and conscription in their own country, held with others from Ethiopia, Sudan and Darfur, he said.
"We had hoped that the revolution in Egypt would have changed their situation, but nothing has changed," said the priest, whose organization fights the trafficking of illegal immigrants crossing the desert and Mediterranean.
The captors demand up to $25,000 or $30,000 per person to release their prisoners, several of whom have also fallen victim to organ traffickers, he said, adding that four of the refugees had already died.
Nick-named "Father Moses," Zerai set up his organization five years ago and has alerted Italian authorities and the media on several occasions to rickety boatloads of immigrants attempting the perilous journey by sea to Italy.